Thursday, April 12, 2012

What's going on?

A good friend, Don, remarked that there has been a string of bookshop closures in Manila lately. Don works in the US, so I was quite surprised that this observation would be coming from him and not from one who's actually living and working in Manila (i.e., me). It got me to thinking though -- yes, this observation is unfortunately true.

Yesterday, during lunch time, I decided to check out the bookstore near the office only to find it's closed down. And the bookstore that our book club has been terribly fond of, Libreria, closed its doors finally last month. Ayayay! Is it the end of the world as we know it?

And if bookstores aren't closing down, they're downsizing. The Powerbooks in Megamall moved to a location that's just about a fifth of its original floor area. Its flagship branch in Greenbelt, which originally had 2 floors, now just has 1, with the other floor now carrying office supplies. The area of Fully Booked in SM North was halved recently. The one in Rockwell was also downsized several months back. And what's the deal with the branch in Greenbelt? Are they downsizing as well?

So Don asked me: Are people just not buying books anymore? Is readership down?

Well, yes, I think people have not been buying books lately, at least not physical books anyway. In our book club, for instance, more and more people have the books of the month loaded to their ebook readers. (Which made me ponder if the bookmarks that the moderators are giving away are moot.)

So I don't think that readership is down. If anything, I believe that people are reading more stuff now than ever. I would like to think that people still get legal copies (e.g., from Amazon, B&N). But with all those file-sharing sites, they're just not shelling out cash anymore. Why spend your hard-earned money on something when you can get it for free, no? Sad, really.

One day, maybe I will get the Kindle or Nook or whatever. But for now, I'll do business with the few bookstores that we have. I don't want these places to go the same way that record bars have. I love them bookstores, and I feel that they've loved me back.


cecille said...

It is sad, Peter. Last year the Powerbooks branch in MOA closed, and this year it was the Robinson's Manila branch.

Admittedly I visit these bookstores and buy books only once or twice a year, but it's a matter of preference. I love my secondhand bookstores. It's a consideration of the price primarily, but it's also mostly the thrill of the hunt; I never know what treasure I'll find in Booksale, and therein for me lies the excitement. It's also the fact that those books have been read before by someone else, and therefore they have history.

I can't posit a reason for the closures, because I believe (hope) that the recent trend of book-to-film adaptations have encouraged people to read. Yet I've noticed that when I enter a bookstore I'm usually alone at the stacks, or together with less than a handful. Sometimes I feel even the store clerks are surprised when I come in the door. It's really sad.

Jack said...

I feel your pain, brother. I almost have to assume that this is a retorical question, coming from a publishing professional, but in case Rip van Winkle is reading, I'll attempt an answer.

Here in the States (and probably there, too) Wal-Mart has been diligently driving neighborhood stores out of business since the 1960s. Now, they're attacking supermarket chains. It isn't hard to imagine what will happen to prices once they're the only game in town, but meanwhile, I don't make enough money in this economy to go to Joe's Produce Market and pay higher prices just to make a point. About the only businesses they can't attack are antique shops, and sure they're working to rectify that as I write this. began the same concerted assault on neighborhood book stores in 1995. Flush with success, they soon branched out into everything from music to sporting goods; today, I can order non-perishable groceries from them, delivered to my door, and because they don't have to have a dozen stores with full staffs in every city, their prices are more than competitive. They even force the big chain book stores to compete with themselves by having on-line ordering; why should I drive 5 miles through city traffic to visit my local B&N when I can sit down at this keyboard and order whatever I want from The day's coming, I fear, when everything you buy is ordered on-line and delivered by mail. Oh, wait a minute, home mail delivery is going the way of the horse-and-buggy, too... Hmmm. It's going to be interesting to see how they pull this off!

Peter S. said...

@Cecille: Oh, right! Those bookstores have closed too. I'm a big fan of secondhand bookstores as well. I hope that these quaint bookshops don't suffer the same fate as PB and FB.

@Jack: Oh, we don't have Wal-Mart here in the Philippines. But I've heard about the consequences of Wal-Mart's retail activities. Very unfortunate.

Stepford Mum said...

This is such sad news. But business is hard these days, not just when you sell books.

Admittedly, most of my book purchases are secondhand or sale books, and I now buy 1 e-book for every 4 paper ones. It will be truly depressing if the world goes the way Jack predicts, with social interaction slowly dying out as people just order everything online.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Stepford Mum! Let's hope that doesn't happen too soon!

Michael Silva said...

I own a Kindle and I still find myself buying actual print books. hehe

Peter S. said...

Good for you, Michael! Woot woot!

Chachic said...

It IS sad that more and more bookstores in the Metro are either closing or downsizing. And Powerbooks has been merged with National Bookstore, right? Although maybe that's a good thing because the prices of books in Powerbooks have gone down to reflect National's prices. Also, even specialty bookstores like Powerbooks and Fully Booked are branching out to include school supplies in their stores.

I have a Kindle but I still read a lot of actual books. My Kindle is convenient when I request and get accepted to read galleys from NetGalley or anywhere else.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Chachic. One of these days, I'll bite the bullet and get a Kindle. Hehehehe.

Monique said...

I was just about to comment on the closure of the Powerbooks outlets at MOA and Robinsons Midtown but saw that someone beat me to it, so there. :)

I own a Kindle, too, but I still buy and read print books - especially of favorite authors. I like looking at the physical books arranged on a shelf, standing testament to the love I have for the written word. And even if I patronize e-books, I don't think I'll ever tire of buying print books. So yes, let's do something about the bookstore business. :)

Peter S. said...

Hi, Monique! I'm with you on your plans! Long live bookstores!